Mike and I are working very hard to bring our courses online and to write our textbooks. Here is an excerpt from my textbook that I thought I might share with you to give you a little sneak peek, and because it’s a question that I’m often asked in my classes.
I mentioned before that a lot of what I do is based on reference material. I’d like to talk a little bit about that, because I am often asked where the intellectual property line is drawn. If I use an elephant as the basis of an elephant graphic that I create, can the original elephant photographer come back and sue me? Your best rule of thumb here is that your new artwork should not look like the original artwork, in a way that the original artist could recognize it as their own. Consider the following examples.
Here is an image that I took from Nicole’s blog, A Little Sussy.
Here is my Illustrator version of it. (For speed’s sake in demonstrating this, I just did a live trace.)
It’s obvious when you see the original and my “art” that I have simply stolen this from Nicole. There is very little that is original about my piece. In this example, actually, I don’t think that there is really anything that I would use from this picture to make my own, because anything I do would still reflect the original photograph and concept. (Unless I decide that I’d like to use the model’s shoes for another picture that I’m doing.)
Take this as another example, with apologies to the original artist, whose name I can’t find. The first image shows an elephant that I found when I did a Google Image Search for elephant.
This second image shows a mother and baby elephant, that are much more stylized versions of this original illustration.
I hope you can see the difference between the samples I’ve shown you for using reference material. Make it your own, or don’t do it. I would also be very careful if you’re using someone’s vector work as reference material. As often as possible, I choose photographs to work from so that my result is uniquely my own. If you were to use my stylized, vector elephant above as reference material for drawing an elephant, unless you were to change it dramatically, you’d be walking on very thin ice. Below, you can see an appropriate new vector elephant that used my previous vector elephant as reference material.
EXCEPTIONS: If you purchase a royalty free photo, such as a photo from iStockphoto.com, you have the rights to make your vector illustration as close to the original as you like. Also, there are lots of copyright free images that belong to the public domain because of their age. Take this illustration for example. This comes from a Dover collection of copyright free images of women. I scanned in an image from their book and performed a live trace. Although my vector version is very true to the original, I am free to use this however I like because the image is in the public domain.